Thursday, December 3, 2020

PEPFAR’s withdrawal of funding rattles local NGOs

Community based organizations involved in the implementation of the national response on HIV interventions have expressed concern that the recent withdrawal of funding for community testing and counseling by the United States President’s Emergency Programme for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) will disrupt community access to treatment.

They expressed concern that most nine to five workers who could only access testing after hours will be left in the lurch.

Lerato Mphusu, Executive Director at Botswana Christian Aids Intervention Programme (BOCAIP) said, “one immediate result of this is that all of our staff who have been trained and deployed specifically for community testing and counseling are automatically rendered unemployed as we relied on that funding.”

At the time of the interview, Mphusu was busy working on proposals for alternative funds to ameliorate the plight of their staff.

 She said they were also tracking their clients who needed further attention as they would no longer meet them at their routine testing arrangements, so that they can determine what required to be done in relation to their enrollment and advise them accordingly.

Frank Phatshwane, Chief Executive Officer of Botswana Business Coalition on Aids (BBCA), complained that PEPFAR should have had the courtesy to warn them in advance so that they could wind down their operations and make their members and other implementing partners aware of the imminent withdrawal.

“It would appear PEPFAR only looked at their expenditure rather than human lives. Young men and women engaged for testing and counseling will lose their jobs, people who had only just been enrolled or were about to be put on ant-retroviral therapy will suffer greatly from the disruption,” quipped Phatshwane.

So we should not be talking about people as if we are discussing guinea pigs, when we could have dialogued to find a much more humane option.

He added that perhaps this should be viewed as a wakeup call for Botswana to see to it that she develops a strategy to harmonize domestic and external funding in both treatment and community testing and counseling in a manner that will consider eventualities such as PEPFAR’s withdrawal of funding.

However the BBCA CEO, admitted that the concerns raised by PEPFAR regarding compliance were legitimate because even they, have been concerned that whilst in the past interventions relied on Botswana Impact Assessment Surveys for data, the last one was conducted a long time back.

As such organizations or institutions like Ministry of Health and Wellness, UNAIDS and WHO relied on separate data or programme data with little connect to the national programme, to inform whatever expert interventions or contributions to the country’s initiatives. So data management has not been up to the desired state.

Although, Tebelopele Testing Centre was affected on the aspect of community testing and counseling, they still benefitted from a partnership with PEPFAR through its NGO implementing partner, namely FH1360’s activities (APC and Linkages) who will continue to get funding from PEPFAR.

The Centre’s CEO, Marlene Nkete confirmed they were equally affected, “Because the stoppage of funding relates to all community testing, which effectively means that alternative sources of funds have to be explored. She further indicated that it did not necessarily mean that Government or anyone doing community testing could not continue if they can.”

Richard Matlhare, Coordinator of National Aids and Health Promotion Agency(NAHPA), told Sunday Standard that a team comprising MHW, NAHPA and PEPFAR Botswana officials were due to leave for Washington D.C. to present a report showing compliance.

“…will thus be going to Washington late this month to submit Performance of the current grant and present a new proposal that would have addressed most of these requirements. Hopefully, even the policy ones would have been responded to (by Cabinet),” explained Matlhare.

Oscar Motsumi,C.E.O. of Botswana Network of Aids Service Organizations (BONASO), opted to ignore our email after agreeing to have us commit our enquiry to writing.

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.